Ipoh, Malaysia: He was witness to the golden era of hockey in India and Pakistan, but Olympian Akhtar Rasool is heartbroken to see the current sorry state of the game in the two countries and feels frequent bilateral series between the neighbours can help bring back the past glory.
Rasool, the head coach and manager of the Pakistan team, has called on the national federations of both India and Pakistan to work together in organising bilateral series at neutral venues if not in the two countries.
"India and Pakistan have taught hockey to the world but they are now struggling to regain their past glory. I feel we should play more against each other. We are not playing with each other. That's why European teams are beating us," Rasool told PTI in an interview on the sidelines of the Asia Cup hockey tournament here.
"If we play more with each other, I think we can slowly and steadily rise up the ladder and dominate world hockey again," he said.
"If we can't play in our respective countries we can play a bilateral series at a neutral venue just like cricket. We just need to have the courage," said the former centre-half, who was a member of Pakistan's gold medal-winning team in 1978 and 1982 World Cups.
India and Pakistan were scheduled to play a home-and-away bilateral hockey series this year but it was called off after the Indian government refused permission on security grounds.
Pakistan's hockey team was scheduled to tour India in April this year for five Test matches, which would have revived the bilateral hockey ties between the two traditional rivals in nearly seven years.
Pakistan were expected to play matches in the cities of Ranchi, Lucknow, Delhi, Mohali and Jalandhar between April 5 to 15. After that, the Indian team was scheduled to pay a return visit and play five matches in Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi and Sialkot from April 23.
Rasool, on his part, has invited the Indian hockey team to visit Pakistan.
"We always welcome India. From my part I assure the Indian people and the government that we will provide full security to the team in Pakistan," he said.
Rasool also said the basics of hockey have changed drastically over the years with power-play coming to the fore.
"Now hockey has become a power game, hockey has totally changed. The Europeans are now dominating hockey but when you consider the art aspect associated with the game, India and Pakistan will always be superior," Rasool observed.
In a must-win situation in the Asia Cup, eight-time Olympic champions India and neighbours Pakistan, are facing the prospect of missing out on a World Cup berth for the first time since the launch of the tournament in 1971, but Rasool said the quadrennial event needs participation from both the countries.
"I hope that India and Pakistan face each other in the Asia Cup final. It would be the best thing to happen for Asian hockey.
"But world hockey needs India and Pakistan. If FIH wants to build the World Cup and popularise it, India and Pakistan must be there," he said.